Way back in April I wrote a bit about my plans for getting back out on my own wheels.
I have two different but similar passions. The first is cycling, which covers long rides and all day adventures. The second is technical trail riding on a mountain bike, often at a bike park.
Around 7 weeks after my injury I got back to cycling. I go out cycling on recumbent trikes since then I’ve ridden well over 100 miles on it. With the addition of some chunkier tyres its even better for gravel riding and laps of the forest.
A few days ago we finally manage to achieve a return to technical trail on a mountain bike riding at one of my favourite local trail centre. Riding peaslake in the surrey hills.
We made it work by focusing on what I could do and then finding the right bit of trail and the right tools to make it happen.
After the intensive physio I had a much better idea of my pain experience. I quickly experience intense burning in my sides, but is not meaningful. If I push through that pain I can go 5x longer. In bike terms it means 2-3 minutes of riding along rather than 30 seconds.
I can’t sit on the bike much (tailbone pain, balance issues, forces in my hips) but I can stand up and roll along. I can pedal a little bit sometimes.
We need a trail with road access top and bottom (for the truck). A consistent downhill gradient (so I don’t need to pedal) and well profiled supportive corners to prevent side loading.
One of the trails we’ve ridden lots meets that spec so a few days ago we went there and had a go.
It was amazing. We started by riding down a green path twice. It was bumpy enough to help me get the bike properly setup and work out my limits, while being smooth enough I could build confidence.
When we got to the bottom, Oli used an ebike to ride back up to the truck. He’d then bring the truck down to collect me for another lap.
We did two laps of the green, then went for a run down a small section of a much more technical trail.
The third run was the most painful run of the day. Ironically most of the riding wasn’t so bad. With enough speed (and a very very clever bike!) I float over the bumps. However I was going so fast I caught up with the riders ahead of us. Once I slowed down and hit all the bumps directly the pain sky rocketed.
I was exceptionally happy. I’m still buzzing from the excitement. We had no idea what was possible. It’s taken us 15 weeks but we’ve got me back on the bike. It may only be 2-3 minutes at a time but it’s infinitely enjoyable. It’s a proper technical trail with a blue / red rating.
While Oli rides back up to grab the truck I lay down flat and let my side muscles recover. The acute burning pain passes within a few minutes and I’m ready to go again after about 10 minutes. We’re not riding up a big hill (about 100m) so around the time I’m ready to go again oli arrives within the truck.
We did 4 laps of the techy trail. Each lap I refined my riding style and line choices. I managed to reduce the pain considerably by changing how I approach the trail. The second lap, third lap & forth laps where a steady improvement.
I was rapidly getting tired. Less snd less speech. Needing more support after each ride to safely get myself into the truck.
The forth run of the day was a bit different. I tried the ebike Oli had been riding.
It’s an amazing bit of kit. Whereas my bike is really precise, the ebike is a big soft tank. Riding along it was very comfortable. The few pedal strokes I could manage went much further. I rode all the way to the end of the trail for the first time as the ebike could boost me up the small hills.
However it was exceptionally painful in corners. The weight of the ebike exceeded my strength. It needed to go faster to be smooth but then all the forces where much higher.
During the ebike run I hit my pain limit. Where my sides go from ‘burning’ to ‘feels like doing the splits’. After that we stopped for the day. I’d also managed to loose my helmet between rides (I was getting very spaced out) so we did the wise thing and stopped while we where ahead.
In a little under 4 hours we managed 6 laps. Perhaps 25 or 26 minutes of total riding time. Ah astounding achievement given everything that’s been going on!
We learnt a huge amount. Especially about what I need from a mountain bike.
Putting aside for a moment the underlying dafteness. We’re doing this because I love riding technical terrain. It’s full of big berms, lots of rooty sections, plus a few small drops and jumps. The simplest solution would be finding a simpler trail… but we do love a challenge. It’s the sense of flow that I am passionate for. The technical challenge is the thing I enjoy.
If we can make this work I can ride a huge range of other trail at other bike parks. This is R&D to set me up for another 10-20 years of mountain biking. We’re being a bit ambitious :)
When riding the things that hurt most where:
What we have learnt is that pain is mostly due to the dynamic forces.
By knowing what was painful i could adjust my riding to avoid it. For example rather than heavy braking, i could point the bike slightly uphill ahead of corners to help me slow down more gently.
The other issues we could resolve with changes to the bike.
I’ve built a different bike from the parts I have based on what we learnt.
The new bike build is much ‘plusher’. As I’ve built it, it’s more or less a downhill only bike. It would be horrible to ride uphill.
To achieve the position I need I’ve had to do some pretty extreme things. I need the front end a higher and the rear end lower.
It wouldn’t have been possible to achieve the position I need on the bike without a new ‘longer’ fork. I loved the fork on the ebike so I brought something very similar for my bike. The new fork is much much more supple and I can install the handlebar higher.
In nerdy terms I changed from a 2018 160mm GRIP 2 Fox 36 with a 180mm steerer, to a 170mm Lyric Ultimate RC2 with a 220mm steerer.
Last week with the physio was hell. Waking up, pushing myself to the point of physical collapse, resting for ages… and then doing it again the next day.
However the pay off was huge. Not in terms on physical progress, but in terms of understanding my body. It gave us the confidence to drive to the bike park… make a plan.. and see what happens.
I am feeling more and more ‘Jamie’ all the time. My body is different since my spinal cord injury but we’re finding ways to make stuff work. It’s painful. Some of the most intense pain I’ve ever experienced. It’s worth it.
Flowing down the trail my brain is quite. I am in the moment. It’s pure joy. A summer of adventure awaits.